Tor Books, 2015, 384 pages
In all the time the Tufa have existed, only two have ever been exiled: Bo-Kate Wisby and her lover, Jefferson Powell. They were cast out, stripped of their ability to make music, and cursed to never be able to find their way back to Needsville. Their crime? A love that crossed the boundary of the two Tufa tribes, resulting in the deaths of several people.
Somehow, Bo-Kate has found her way back. She intends to take over both tribes, which means eliminating both Rockhouse Hicks and Mandalay Harris. Bo-Kate has a secret weapon: Byron Harley, a rockabilly singer known as the "Hillbilly Hercules" for his immense size and strength, who has passed the last 60 years trapped in a bubble of faery time. He's ready to take revenge on any Tufa he finds.
The only one who can stop Bo-Kate is Jefferson. Released from the curse and summoned back to Cloud County, even he isn't sure what will happen when they finally meet. Will he fall in love with her again? Will he join her on her quest to unite the Tufa under her rule? Or will he have to sacrifice himself to save the people who once banished him?
Returning to Needsville, in book three of the Tufa saga, we learn that years ago, a pair of natural born killer Tufa went on a rampage that left a bunch of people dead over petty shit. The star-crossed lovers were from the two opposing Tufa tribes, so they were exiled from Cloud County and each other.
Except Bo-Kate Wisby, who was clearly the more sociopathic half of the couple, somehow finds a way to return, and she not only wants vengeance, but to take over Cloud County.
The Tufa saga continues to be an interesting and rather strange take on an American fairy tale. It's got the flavor of an "urban fantasy" (magical beings hiding in the modern world), but the setting is Appalachia and the magical beings are the people known as the Tufa who are actually descended from the Tuatha De Dannan of ancient Celtic lore. The author depicts them as people who are grounded in the modern world, with jobs and money problems and grievances with the gummint, but also a people for whom "time doesn't work the same." All of them, even little 12-year-old Mandalay Harris, are actually kinda sorta immortal (unless they get killed, and even that turns out to be sort of unreliable).
So Bo-Kate cuts a swath through Cloud County, shaking trees, flipping tables, stirring up trouble and burning shit down, and dragging her hapless Black English personal assistant and lover with her, a nice fellow named Nigel who was far too likeable, especially after putting up with repeatedly being called the n-word by hillbilly fairies. (Or as he aptly puts it: "Here I thought I was going to be the nice guy who gets the girl, and instead I'm the black guy in the horror movie.")
Since Mandalay is technically the ruler of her tribe, but also still physically and emotionally a 12-year-old girl, she isn't really prepared to take on Bo-Kate herself, which sets off a complicated plot where the Tufa have to go to New York to fetch Bo-Kate's exiled ex to stop her, while Bo-Kate's plan involves bringing back a rock star who supposedly died in the 50s in a Buddy Holly-like plane crash, but has actually been trapped in a bubble of fairy time for decades.
While I liked the drama and the personalities (even the return of Bronwyn and Bliss, the oversexed protagonists from the first two novels), I found that the fantasy elements sort of didn't fit together coherently. Which is to say, the author does a lot of handwaving about "time being different for the Tufa" and "this is the way it is for Reasons," and the favorite Tufa explanation for just about everything that can't be explained, "the Night Winds said so." So, Bo-Kate Wisby is a psychotic bitch on wheels, but she can still be shot in the head just like anyone else, and yet the Tufa are helpless to deal with her the way she deals with her enemies because... well, not exactly because the Tufa are good guys and wouldn't do that. They're not. Just.... Reasons. The Night Winds said so. Bo-Kate is going to take over Cloud County and rename Needsville and turn them into the next Branson, and the Tufa are going to go along with it because... they like money? And also she's crazy? And she demonstrates her power by retrieving a modern day Tam Lin who their grandparents listened to, which impresses them why exactly? All of this is resolved rather confusingly in the climax, where Bo-Kate tries to kill Mandalay, and then she and her ex-lover are reunited, and then stuff happens for Reasons.
So, I liked all the characters, and the story remains an entertaining soap opera about Appalachian fairy folk who watch YouTube videos and complain about Obama. But the whole book is trying to build up Bo-Kate as this super-dangerous Big Bad who is a threat to the entire Tufa way of life and, like, she's just a crazy chick, what's the big deal?
I'll continue with the series, because it's clearly setting up a few long-term relationships and plot lines and I'm interested to see where they go, but I'm hoping the fantasy elements will be expanded on a bit more.
Also by Alex Bledsoe: My reviews of The Hum and the Shiver and Wisp of a Thing.
My complete list of book reviews.